PHOTO: Dust flies as Sebastien Ogier races to Rally Australia victory (Volkswagen pic)
COFFS COAST (NSW) – Defending champion Sébastien Ogier held off a last-gasp lunge by his own teammate to claim his second Coates Hire Rally Australia and help the Volkswagen team clinch the 2014 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers today.
Ogier kept his cool as Finnish teammate Jari-Matti Latvala tried to catch up over the final three Special Stages and arrived at the official finish in Coffs Harbour a mere 6.8sec ahead after 313kms of fierce competition over three days.
Norway’s Andreas Mikkelsen came home 11.8sec behind in third spot, securing Volkswagen’s first 1-2-3 in the WRC.
The 23rd Rally Australia was hailed as the most successful since the event moved to New South Wales in 2009. Big crowds packed the spectator stages throughout the weekend, while organisers celebrated confirmation of a return date on 10-13 September 2015.
Several drivers said the roads were among the best in the 13-country WRC tour.
The Volkswagen Polo R’s 19th win from 23 WRC starts ensured the German team wrapped up the Manufacturers title in record time, with three events still to run in this year’s season.
In an emotional speech at a post-event press conference, team chief Jost Capito dedicated the win to every Volkswagen employee.
Ogier’s sixth win of the season – and 15th with Volkswagen – moved him closer to a second straight Championship crown. He has a 50-point buffer over Latvala and would love to wrap it up at his home round in France next month, as he did last year.
The Frenchman acknowledged his victory in Rally Australia 2014 was not achieved with the same dominance as last year, when he came home 1m32sec ahead of Thierry Neuville, then with Ford.
“This year it wasn’t possible to have that. Jari-Matti was strong but I knew that without mistakes I would be okay,” he said.
“It wasn’t a big winning margin but enough to win the rally and another crucial step towards winning the title.”
Latvala held a slender lead on Saturday until fate smiled on Ogier. Rain was forecast but Ogier opted for a harder compound tyre than his teammate.
The rain didn’t eventuate and Latvala’s softer tyres overheated in the warm weather. At the end of that stage, Ogier had gone from four seconds down to nine seconds ahead and Latvala could not regain the advantage.
“It has been a great fight. I’ve had highlights leading the rally and overall I enjoyed it despite making the wrong tyre choice,” Latvala said.
“There is still a chance for the championship, although it is a lot more difficult now.”
While the leading Volkswagen drivers fought over the top two positions, their colleague Mikkelsen spent the first two days of the event fighting tooth and nail with Citroën’s Kris Meeke for the final podium place.
Then the Irishman was penalised more than a minute after cutting a corner illegally during Saturday’s stages and the Norwegian was able to cruise to his fourth podium for the year.
Meeke’s penalty initially dropped him behind Mikko Hirvonen’s Ford Fiesta RS, but the Citroën star was on a mission in his DS3 WRC and he fought his way back across the day, eventually relegating the flying Finn to fifth, 9.6sec in arrears.
The hard luck story of the day was Meeke’s Norwegian teammate Mads Ostberg whose DS3 suffered broken rear right suspension in the second-last stage, dropping him to 16th.
Hyundai’s New Zealand-born driver Hayden Paddon had battled Ostberg through every stage and ended up as the beneficiary of the Citroën driver’s tribulations, moving up into sixth place. Paddon’s team leader Thierry Neuville was seventh, having played catch-up from Day One when the suspension broke on his i20 WRC.
Ford’s Elfyn Evans came home in eighth while former F1 race winner Robert Kubica finished ninth and Hyundai’s Australian driver Chris Atkinson rounded out the top 10.
“It’s good to get to the finish in my worst-ever Rally Australia,” said Atkinson whose lack of match fitness (he hadn’t done a round of the WRC since March) and role as ‘road sweeper’ slowed his times.
“We certainly hope to come back in the future and put on a show – in a World Rally Car – at home.”
In the WRC2 category, Nasser Al-Attiyah (Ford Fiesta RRC) was first home and 11th outright, Jari Ketomaa (Ford Fiesta R5) was second and 12th outright, and Yuriy Protasov (Ford Fiesta RRC), third in his category, and 13th in the overall results.
While Rally Australia also served as a round of the East Coast Bullbars Australian Rally Championship, several Australian crews nominated to contest the event under WRC regulations.
Matt Van Tuinen and his Subaru Impreza WRX STi finished 17th outright, just under 29 minutes behind Ogier, while Adrian Coppin and his Citroën DS3 came home in 19th, 44 minutes behind the winner.
2014 COATES HIRE RALLY AUSTRALIA
Overall official classification
(total time, and difference from leader):
1. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) 2h:53:18.0
2. J.M Latvala / M. Anttila (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +6.8
3. A. Mikkelsen / O. Floene (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +1:18.0
4. K. Meeke / P. Nagle (Citroën DS3 WRC) +1:44.0
5. M. Hirvonen / J. Lehtinen (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +1:53.6
6. H. Paddon / J. Kennard (Hyundai i20 WRC) +2:56.2
7. T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +4:28.2
8. E. Evans / D. Barritt (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +5:10.0
9. R. Kubica / M. Szczepaniak (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +6:39.8
10. C. Atkinson / S. Prévot (Hyundai i20 WRC) +9:29.4
1. (11th) N. Al-Attiyah / G. Bernacchini (Ford Fiesta RRC)
2. (12th) J. Ketomaa / K. Lindstrom (Ford Fiesta R5)
3. (13th) Y. Protasov / P. Cherepin (Ford Fiesta RRC)
WRC Drivers Championship (after Rd 10)
- Sébastien Ogier 214
- Jari-Matti Latvala 164
- Andreas Mikkelsen 125
- Mikko Hirvonen 83
- Thierry Neuville 79
- Mads Østberg 74
- Kris Meeke 67
- Elfyn Evans 61
- Martin Prokop (not in Australia) 37
- Henning Solberg (not in Australia) 26
WRC Manufacturers Championship (after Rd 10)
- Volkswagen Motorsport 348
- Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT 154
- M-Sport WRT 146
- Hyundai Motorsport 141
- Volkswagen Motorsport II 109